Think back: What were you doing at 22 years old? Did you even know what you wanted to do with your life at that point? Were you working in a job you knew was only temporary? Were you fresh out of trade school/college and searching for work? For many of you, there was probably some measure of uncertainty about the future. As a young adult, you had to go out and carve your own path — perhaps not even knowing where that path would lead.
Many young people struggle to figure out what they want to do with their lives. It’s a rare gift to know your career ambitions so early on, but Daniel Sumner, general manager of 23 Mile Collision, is one of those 22 year olds already blessed with that insight.
“It has always been my dream since I was a little kid to take over the [family] business and show my dad that I have what it takes to keep it going,” says Sumner.
And now that his father is looking to retire soon, Sumner plans to do just that.
Youth Isn’t Wasted on the Young
After being a full-time technician at other shops for about 10 years, Sumner’s father decided to strike out on his own and opened 23 Mile Collision in 1996 — years before Sumner was even born. As a result, 23 Mile Collision was a fixture in Sumner’s life. Add to that the fact that he’s always had an interest in fixing things, and it was only natural that once he started learning how to do body work, he fell in love with it right away.
Upon graduating from high school, Sumner decided to skip going to college and instead start working at the shop full-time. After working hands-on with the vehicles for about two years, he decided to move into the office to learn the business side of the shop with his dad. Now, after five years of working at 23 Mile Collision, Sumner feels ready to captain the whole ship.
“Managing the shop is a very difficult and stressful job, but I am still so excited to see what the future holds for me,” he says.
Of course, the challenges of management are compounded even more because of Sumner’s youth — but he’s not letting that stop him.
“My greatest challenge is being so young while running a business. When a customer sees that I am handling everything, they may be a bit skeptical seeing someone half their age bring in their vehicle and bring it back to pre-loss condition,” Sumner explains. “Through a lot of communication and determination, they slowly start to realize that I care about their vehicle more than my own.”
Customer satisfaction has always been Sumner’s top priority, and he plans to keep it that way. In fact, one way Sumner has tried to connect even more with current customers and potential customers is by bringing 23 Mile Collision to social media. He cites it as his “greatest success” for the business thus far and that it “for sure has made a big impact.” As part of a younger generation, Sumner sees his willingness to embrace new technology (not to mention his overall digital savviness) as a benefit he brings to the shop.
“I think all shops will need to adapt to all the new technology if they want to succeed,” he says. “Vehicles nowadays are like computers on wheels. Also, I believe shop owners need to understand how important bringing your business to social media is. Pretty much everyone is on social media these days, and what better way to advertise than on something they are familiar with and use every day?”
Before the advent of social media, of course, collision repair shops relied on word-of-mouth or direct repair programs (DRPs) to bring in business. And while 23 Mile Collision is part of a couple DRPs, Sumner doesn’t think they’re as necessary as they once were.
“I don’t think every shop needs to be on a DRP as much as they did in the past. With how advanced technology is today, just a couple clicks on your phone and you can see all the top shops in the area. That is why good reviews and social media marketing is so important. We currently have two insurance companies that we are on a DRP with. Yes, we do get a lot of work from them, but I don’t believe it is a necessity to be a successful shop. We are very insurance friendly, and we accept all insurance companies.”
“The most important thing is to make sure your customer is satisfied no matter what it takes,” Sumner says. “A lot of the business we get is from past customers referring our shop to friends, family, coworkers, etc. If a customer is not satisfied with the repairs that were done on their vehicle, I communicate with them and do what needs to be done to have them drive off the lot happy.”
23 Mile Collision uses several methods to ensure customer satisfaction. For instance, the shop offers a lifetime warranty on all repairs. The team also makes sure every vehicle is washed for pickup — because offering customers a clean, shiny car is something Sumner considers restoring the car to pre-loss condition.
And, as mentioned earlier, Sumner makes sure to use technology to keep up a constant stream of communication with vehicle owners. “I think customers really appreciate it when you keep them updated via text messages. Just a couple texts, photos every other day makes them more comfortable and shows them that you care about their vehicle,” he explains. “Working in the office with my dad shows me that he still goes by the old ways and has a hard time adapting to new things.”
Of course, that’s not to say that all the “old ways” are bad for a business. Sumner readily admits that his father still brings in plenty of business and believes it is due to his experience, knowledge and communication skills.
“I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to learn the business from someone as determined as him,” he says.
When Sumner eventually takes over, he plans to bring 23 Mile Collision to the next level. First and foremost, he wants to expand the business to different locations. The shop has only had one location for as long as it’s been around, and Sumner knows that if he doesn’t at least give it a shot, he will regret it in the future.
“My main goal is to take 23 Mile Collision to somewhere it has never been before. I want everyone in the area to know that 23 Mile Collision is the best shop around. I want more employees, more workflow, more everything.”
While shops could use an influx of dedicated young people like Sumner as the workforce ages, it’s no secret that young techs — and workers in general — are getting harder and harder to find. Despite being in management now, Sumner still repairs vehicles, cleans the shop and washes the vehicles when needed just to keep everything running smoothly. He wishes schools would start teaching youth trade vocations early on, believing that many would love tech work if they just tried it out. Perhaps then, there would be an easier solution to the problems shop owners often encounter in terms of finding suitable successors for their businesses.
“Taking over the business has been my plan since I was a little kid, and I won’t let anything stop me from reaching my goal,” Sumner concludes. “I have always had that attitude and I am always working as if someone is spending 24 hours a day trying to take [the business] away from me.”